If You’re One of These Toxic Parent Stereotypes, You’re Part of The Problem
That’s right, I’m coming out of the gate hot on this one. I’m doing this, because I really wish that this wasn’t an issue. By the way, I’m not talking about anything having to do with kids; no, I’m talking about parental isolation. Fear of judgment. Exacerbated Postpartum Depression. Y’know, things like that. It’s a problem, and if my time working with different moms has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a (small, but rather loud) subset of people who like to hang out at parks, grocery stores, and on the internet, reminding mothers everywhere that they’re being watched and judged for everything they do.
I’m sure we’ve all run into these people at one time or another. Without further ado, I present to you:
Whether she has kids or not, she is certain that she’s a naturally excellent parent. She believes that children are the future. They are innocent and sweet, and only do what their little hearts desire because they’re blessed little cherubs bestowed upon us by Heaven to sprinkle us with love and dew. And anyone who believes otherwise is a horrible monster who is undeserving of children.
When you ask a local mom’s group about how to get your child to eat their dinner without complaining, The Sanctimommy will huff that your child is entitled to their opinion, and that you should be making a separate meal because “they’re only little for so long anyway.” Similarly, she will often passive-aggressively link random articles or videos in comments on others’ posts that back up her parenting style. When confronted, she’ll sniff that she was only trying to help, and then will be sure to say something like “if you don’t want to raise a well-adjusted child, that is certainly your choice” before blocking you on the internet.
In person, the Sanctimommy will be sure to stare at you when you yell, tsk when you look down at your phone, and correct you when you try to apologize for your child’s ill behavior. After all, Mommy, they are perfect beings exempt from judgement. Grow up and be appreciative of what you have. Don’t you know there are women out there right now who’d kill to have kids? Goodness.
If this is you, you COULD do this instead: You’re welcome to be proud of your parenting. That’s awesome. You’re also welcome to offer help when it’s asked. That is also awesome. However, trying to guilt people into being like you is not awesome, so maybe you should stop that. If you disagree with a person’s parenting style and it isn’t necessarily dangerous to them or others, I’d suggest remembering that it’s not your place to correct another’s way of raising children. Unless you live in the house with this family and their children, you won’t know what works, how it resonates, or how the parents could actually be doing things. Therefore, love your children as you see fit, and perhaps let others do it the way they see fit, too. Which brings me to the next toxic type:
The Drill Sergeant
I’m all for the tough love, but this particular parent type needs to put the stick down. They’re either very happy parents or entirely miserable — there is no in-between. But they don’t complain. You know how you’ll know they don’t complain? Because they’ll tell you. Every. Chance. They. Get.
“You chose to have kids, so suck it up and be a parent!” They’ll be sure to say to a new mom who’s breaking down over a horrible, stressful day.
“You think I love having to work and help with homework? But that’s part of being a mom, so I don’t complain. Get used to it.” They’ll advise a mother who’s tired of helping with Common Core math.
“If this was my kid I’d have whooped their ass six ways from Sunday and then they wouldn’t be talking to me like that. You’re the parent. Act like it.” They’ll tell a mother who was merely asking for chicken recipes. This particular stereotype also isn’t the best at listening, because that’s much more boring than simply telling someone what to do in a very commanding manner.
There really isn’t any talking to a Drill Sergeant; you kind of just need to nod and leave the conversation immediately, lest you otherwise say something that moves them to start yelling more about how some people shouldn’t be parents. But of course they mean the other person, not them. They always mean the other person.
If this is you, you COULD do this instead: I am a dum-dum who likes to believe the best in people, so I like to believe that this is an attempt at pumping someone up, giving them a motivational talk, if you will. I want to believe this comes from a nice place. So maybe just take your foot off the gas a bit. Sometimes, people don’t want a pat on the ass and a “get back in there;” some days, we’d rather hear someone empathize, or tell us that we’re doing our best. We’re not always wanting someone to tell us that life is hard; we know that. We just need to know that we have safe places to go when things are difficult. That’s one of the biggest ways to ward off isolation.
3. The One — Upper
Nobody has it worse than the one-upper. Also, no one has it better than the one-upper. Nobody has anything as much as the one-upper does. You can’t. She will not let you.
If you say that your toddler is being a mondo-sized dick, she’ll respond “Ugh. Wait until they’re teenagers.”
If you mention that your two kids are driving you off the deep end while you try to make dinner, they’ll crow “Well I have four kids and I manage to make it work. You can totally figure out two!”
No one is allowed to struggle, to triumph, to think, or to speak without the One-Upper jumping forth to mention how much easier or harder things are for her. When confronted, she’ll insist that she was just talking about the subject at hand, but she never does offer help or respond to a comment with “I know what you mean,” or “I know how that feels.” Her comments are only ever in reference to another’s personal struggles, and they’re only said when they can bring attention back to her. It’s often clear that she feels that her problems are worse than yours and that you’re being whiny, which will often make you afraid to bring anything up to her. Fun times.
If this is you, you COULD do this instead: Of any of these types, you’ve got the easiest fix. Notice how often you say the word “I” in conversation. Remember that not all conversations have to be about you. And, most importantly of all, get the notion out of your head that suffering is a competition. Your friends may have fewer children than you, less responsibility than you, or more money than you, but that doesn’t erase how hard they feel things are in the moment. Support their feelings, not yours. Therein will lie the difference.
4. The Boot
In military terms, a “boot” is someone who is blindly gung-ho for the military. They are blind to any faults within the system; obsessed with letting everyone else know they are in the military no matter the station, and they tend to get particularly angry with anyone who dares disagree with their love for their position.
Parent boots are the same, just minus the fatigues. You can’t mention that parenting sucks in any shape, way, or form. You can’t complain about how difficult things can get. You can’t ever mention that you don’t like this whole parenthood gig sometimes. Well I mean…you can, but the Boot will shout you down about it. Basically, the Boot is what happens when the Sanctimommy and the Drill Sergeant have a baby.
“Parenting isn’t hard; you’re just not trying hard enough.” They’ll say. “I’m so happy spending every second I can with my kids. Stop trying to scare people into not having children.”
If it didn’t happen to the Boot, it’s doesn’t happen, or it only happens to those who are too weak-minded to enjoy things the way they do. They most certainly do experience the same parenting struggles everyone else does; they’re just also unable to fathom how anyone else could possibly think differently. Without being wrong, that is.
When confronted, a Boot’s favorite response is generally one of two phrases: Either (1): “I’m entitled to my opinion,” or (2): “I just don’t choose to be miserable.” These comments generally come without the realizations that (1) They’re sharing their opinion in a place where it wasn’t asked for, or (2) that being screamed at, shit on, randomly punched, stolen from, or otherwise thrown through the ringer sucks for everyone; some of us just choose to be honest about that.
If this is you, you COULD do this instead: I’m not expecting you to really listen — Boots generally don’t — but just in case you’re one of the rare cases who isn’t aware that you do these things, I’m going to suggest that the best thing you can do is take your own advice and change your mindset. Assuming that you truly do find every single moment of parenting fun and engaging and exciting, that is amazing for you, and that is also not something everyone else needs to agree with. By entering into conversations to chastise others for feeling like things are hard simply because you don’t feel that way, you’re encouraging more silence, greater feelings of isolation, and a greater number of opinions that you are a dick. Notice that I didn’t mention anywhere in there that you’re changing anyone’s mind. You are not. Everyone has a different experience, and that’s okay. If you really can’t stand people “whining” about how hard things are, keep your opinions to yourself and leave. But please don’t shame others into silence because you can’t handle hearing that others’ perceptions are different from yours. It’s mean, and frankly, it’s dangerous.
In all honesty, the people who should be reading this will not be open to the advice written herein, and that’s why I turn to you, who is most likely not one of the types listed above. Know that you aren’t alone, that your struggles are valid, and that everyone deserves a cheering section and a like-minded village. And I do mean everyone: even the people listed above. You just don’t have to be in that village with them.
Please know that most of us get you. Most of us support you. Most of us totally identify with your struggles. And for what it’s worth, you have a better chance of running into us than you do anyone who’ll put you down or try to send you back into your isolated shell.
Come on out and join us. We got your back.
This article was originally published on The NYAM Project website in April, 2020.